The signs and symptoms of psychosis

What is it like to experience psychosis?

Doctors use the word psychosis to describe times when you experience reality markedly differently to most other people and you are out of touch with reality.

No two people experience psychosis in exactly the same way. The nature of your experience, its intensity and how much it distresses you and the people around you can vary a great deal.

The most common ways that people experience psychosis are:

  • Hearing voices that others do not; we call this auditory hallucinations.
  • Smelling, seeing, tasting or feeling things that others do not – this may be called hallucinating. Hallucinations can occur in all five senses.
  • Holding strong beliefs that are not shared by the people around you, for example that your neighbours are trying to harm you, that a chip is controlling your thoughts, or that you are the prime minister – these may be called delusions and paranoid ideas.
  • Finding it hard to think and concentrate, perhaps because your psychotic experiences are overwhelming or distracting.
  • Being inexpressive and withdrawn; not having the motivation to do things like cook or wash.
  • Extreme moods.

You may have all of these, or one. You may feel them just once for a brief time, or they may be part of the way you are.

If you are experiencing psychosis, you may be unaware of it and may believe that what you are feeling is real. The people around you may try to tell you that they are worried and it may be hard for you to believe them. This is called losing insight.

Do I need help?

Not everyone is distressed by these experiences: you may welcome hearing a familiar or supportive voice, or seeing a much-loved face, for example. Many people hear voices at some point in their lives and it is not always a sign of being ill.

However, if you are distressed and feel you cannot cope, you should seek help from someone you trust or a doctor.

If you know someone who seems to be experiencing psychosis and you are concerned for their well-being and safety, even if they are not, you should also seek help for them.

You should seek help urgently if you hear voices telling you to harm yourself or someone else.

Does psychosis mean I am ill?

Psychosis isn’t an illness in itself – and for some people it is an entirely positive experience – but it may be caused by a condition, disorder, injury or event and may be hard to live with.

For example, people diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and schizoaffective disorder may well experience psychosis. Psychosis may also be caused by alcohol and drugs, brain injury or a personality disorder.

You may experience psychosis in response to a major stressful event such as bereavement or giving birth.

If you are concerned by what you are feeling, do seek help: we can help you to understand and cope with what is happening, and in many cases to make a full recovery.

Find out more

The British Psychological Society: Understanding Psychosis and Schizophrenia

Mind: about psychosis

Rethink: about psychosis

Royal College of Psychiatrists: information for carers

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